115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

“… sadism’s really a twisted empathy”: Ways of Seeing Revenge and Justice in Nina Raine’s Consent

Marcia Eppich-Harris, Marian University

While Consent is a thoroughly modern play that interrogates 21st century problems, its roots lie in classical literary themes of revenge and justice. The play is comparable to a number of tragic myths and legends, most prominently Euripides’s Medea, which is discussed thoroughly in the play, and Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece

Proposal: 

How do we see and know justice? Does justice require vengeance? British playwright Nina Raine’s 2017 play, Consent, provides a mind-bending glimpse into the world of patriarchal justice – a world in which women seek and are often denied justice, especially in terms of rape and sexual fidelity because of patriarchal ways of seeing women. While Consent is a thoroughly modern play that interrogates 21st century problems, its roots lie in classical literary themes of revenge and justice. The play is comparable to a number of tragic myths and legends, most prominently Euripides’s Medea, which is discussed thoroughly in the play, and Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece. The multi-layered plot of the play concerns a rape trial that is litigated by two lawyers, Ed and Tim, who are not only friends but eventually are embroiled in a love triangle that is steeped in revenge and infidelity. Ed’s wife, Kitty, still resentful of the fact that Ed cheated on her five years ago, seeks revenge through having an affair with Tim. Obsessed with teaching Ed empathy, Kitty forces her point of view onto Ed with her affair. In addition to her affair, Kitty also has an abortion, linking herself to Medea, in order to make clear that she has the power to punish Ed. The rape victim, Gayle, commits suicide after the man who raped her was found not guilty. Her death resonates with the suicide of Lucretia in Shakespeare’s poem, which implies that no punishment can salvage the honor that was lost in being victimized.  Rather, Lucretia and Gayle’s decisions to end their lives were their attempts at preserving their honor and dignity, since no justice could be found, especially in Gayle’s case. I will argue that the connections to Medea and The Rape of Lucrece in Raine’s work reveal the stunted progress of women’s liberation in terms of infidelity, rape, and justice, as well as the tragic truth – that patriarchal societies, both ancient and modern, see justice through men’s eyes, rather than women’s, and has no incentive to change.